Category: Data

LightScribe (2004 – 2013)

LightScribe was not a format as such, but a technology introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 2004 that allowed optical drives to laser-etch labels onto compatible media.

As well as a compatible LightScribe enabled drive, LightScribe drivers and suitable disc-burning software that supported LightScribe was required. Finally, a LightScribe compatible disc was needed. After burning data to the disc, the disc is turned over so the label side is face down, and the same laser that burnt data is used to etch the reactive dye coating of the disc.

LightScribe-compatible discs came in the form of CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW. No Blu-ray discs were LightScribe compatible.

The LightScribe technology could only etch in monochrome, and it was possible for the design to fade over time, especially if the disk was exposed to direct sunlight. Etching a disc took a considerable amount of time; up to 30 minutes for a high-contrast image.

As of 2013, the technology was no longer promoted by Hewlett-Packard, but it is possible to obtain the software from elsewhere. Drive manufactures have now ceased making LightScribe enabled optical drives (optical drives in computers are under threat in general).

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Enhanced CD (1994 – )

An enhanced CD (or ECD) is a Compact Disc that contains both audio content playable on a standard CD audio player, and multimedia content playable on a computer CD-ROM.

Introduced in 1994, the idea behind enhanced CDs was to offer the music buyer some extra bonus features using space on the disc that was unfilled by the music. This might take the form of music videos (similar to the earlier idea of CD Video), interviews, wallpapers, pictures, lyrics, or links to an artists website.

Rather confusingly, there were three different ways on combining the different content on the disc. Prior to 1996, enhanced CDs were created in one of two ways. One was to have the multimedia content in the first track, but this meant that track 1 needed to be skipped when played in a standard CD audio player or else the multimedia track could cause an unpleasant noise to be heard. A subsequent solution was to have the multimedia content in the pre-gap before track 1 (rather like the way a CD-i Ready disc worked). Both of these methods were known as ‘mixed-mode’, combining Red Book Digital Audio and Yellow Book CD-ROM information in a single ‘session’ on the same disc.

To get around the problems of mixed-mode discs, Philips and Sony released the Blue Book standards in 1995, and worked with Apple, Microsoft and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to develop them. This new standard specified multisession technology that used two sessions on the disc, the first one containing audio tracks, and the second one containing data that is invisible to CD audio players. In 1996, most enhanced CDs used mixed-mode with the multimedia in the pre-gap, but by 1997 most were using Blue Book standards. The only downside to the newer multisession technology was that CD-ROM drives made before 1996 might not recognise them if they were not multisession capable.

Enhanced CDs can usually be recognised the official ‘Enhanced CD’ logo recommended by the RIAA. They may also have the CD EXTRA logo (previously known as CD Plus), which was trademarked by Sony for use on Blue Book discs.

Later technologies like DVD-Audio or DualDisc tried to perform the same function of offering the music album with bonus material such as videos, but later albums often came instead with the videos on a separate DVD-Video.

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Nintendo Wii U Optical Disc (2012 -2017)

The Wii U was a video game console introduced by Nintendo in 2012 as the successor to the Nintendo Wii. On release, it was the first eighth-generation video game console, and supported high-definition graphics.  It later competed with other eighth-generation consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft Xbox One.

The controller contained its own screen and could either supplement the main display, or in some games could be used independently of the television.

The Wii U could play discs from the previous Wii system, but no longer supported Nintendo GameCube discs. Games for the Wii U could be downloaded from the Nintendo eShop or bought on the proprietary Wii U Optical Disc. The discs themselves stored up to 25GB (only single-layer discs were used) and were similar to Blu-ray discs having been developed for Nintendo by Panasonic. However, the Wii U could not play Blu-ray discs.

Like the previous Nintendo Wii Optical Disc, the discs for the Wii U have rounded edges both on the outside of the disc and inside the spindle hole.

By the end of 2016, over 13 million Wii U consoles had been sold, but the Wii U was discontinued in January 2017.

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CD-i Ready (1991 – 1998)

CD-i Ready was a hybrid optical disc format, combining audio tracks readable by any Compact Disc audio player, and multimedia or interactive elements readable on a CD-i (Compact Disc Interactive) player. It was introduced by Philips in 1991.

The audio tracks conform to Red Book Compact Disc Digital Audio standards, while the CD-i part conforms to Green Book standards, and could contain interviews, photos, biographies, games and more. The CD-i component is located in the ‘pre-gap’ area before track 1, which is skipped over by Compact Disc audio players.

The idea, like CD-i generally, was not a commercial success, and there appear to be fewer than 20 titles released as CD-i Ready discs.

The ideas behind the hybrid CD-i Ready discs were used in later types of hybrid audio/data discs such as the Enhanced CD that contained content which could be read on a standard computer CD-ROM drive rather than requiring a dedicated CD-i player.

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Exatron Stringy Floppy (1978 – 1986)

The Exatron String Floppy was introduced in 1978, and was an endless loop tape cartridge system for microcomputers. At the time, floppy disk systems were still expensive, and cassette tapes were very slow. Despite the name, so-called stringy floppy systems are unrelated to floppy disks.

The tape cartridges, called wafers, contained a 1/16-inch loop of mylar-based chrome dioxide tape, in different lengths according to the capacity of the wafer. The smallest wafer contained 5 feet of tape and could hold 4 KB of data, and the longest was 75 foot and, capable of holding 64 KB of data. A 16 KB file took just 24 seconds to load.

The Exatron Stringy Floppy system was most commonly used with the TRS-80 range of computers, and did not require an expansion interface. By 1982, the price has fallen to $99.50. As well as being used to save data, software, including programs and games, was available on Stringy Floppy wafers.

Although popular with TRS-80 owners, the system could be unreliable, and as the price of faster and more reliable floppy disk drives fell they became less attractive. They continued to be advertised until 1986.

Similar stringy floppy tape systems were available during the 1980s, including the Sinclair ZX Microdrive, and the Rotronics Wafadrive.

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Nintendo 3DS (2011 – )

The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld game console launched in 2011 as a successor to the Nintendo DS. Its main feature was the ability to display stereoscopic 3D effects on the upper screen without the need for special glasses. Nintendo’s previous attempt at a 3D handheld game console (the Nintendo Virtual Boy) was a commercial failure, and required a special headset to view monochrome 3D effects.

The Nintendo 3DS competes with Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld console.

Several versions of the 3DS have been introduced since its launch, including the 3DS XL with a much larger screen, an entry level 2DS (without the clamshell form factor or 3D facility), and the ‘new’ 3DS and 3DS XL with a faster processor and other upgrades.

It is backward compatible with the Nintendo DS and DSi, and Game Cards for these consoles will fit into the 3DS. Games for the 3DS are prevented from being inserted into the older DS/DSi by a small lug on the card. 3DS Game Cards can hold between 1 and 4 GB of game data (compared to the DS card which held between 8 and 512 MB).

As well as loading games from ROM cards, the 3DS can connect to the Nintendo eShop to download games. Games, audio and picture files can be stored on a Secure Digital or SDHC card (or microSD on the new 3DS/DS XL)

Despite disappointing early sales, the 3DS family become very successful and as of September 2016 had sold over 61 million units.

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Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) (2006 – )

SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) is a variant of Secure Digital offering higher capacity and speed, and was introduced in 2006 as version 2.0 of the SD specification.

Devices that support SDHC cards will still work with standard SD cards, but at slower speeds. However, older devices designed to work with standard SD cards (usually made before 2007) will not usually work with SDHC cards.

Standard SD cards are available up to 2 GB, whereas SDHC cards are able to offer up to 32 GB.

SDHC cards are rated for speed, with Class 2, 4, 6, and 10 available. The class number relates to the MB per second write speed, so a Class 10 card should offer a minimum of 10 MB/second. Some devices may specify a minimum card speed requirement.

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Tapwave Zodiac (2004 – 2005)

The Tapwave Zodiac was a handheld game and entertainment console. It was launched in 2003 by Tapwave, reaching the UK in 2004, and ran a version of the Palm Operating System (which meant it also had PDA functionality).

Two models were available, the Tapwave 1 with 32MB, and the Tapwave 2 with 128MB. The Zodiac had two memory card slots, and could take either MultiMediaCards or Secure Digital cards. Games, music or photos could be loaded on either type, but SD cards were faster. The console had a built-in MP3 player, e-book reader, rumble pack and Bluetooth.

Despite good reviews and some noteworthy games titles, it suffered from strong competition from Nintendo’s DS system and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP); this along with insufficient funding meant it was discontinued in 2005.

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Iomega Zip 250 (2001 – 2003)

Zip was a high-capacity floppy disk format originally introduced in 1995 by Iomega. Initially, it had a capacity of 100 MB, later increased to 250 MB in 2001, and again to 750 MB in 2002.

The Zip 250 drives were available in a wide variety of interfaces; parallel port, USB 2.0 and FireWire for exernal drives and IDE or SCSI for internal drives.

Although the disks looked identical to Zip 100 disks, they could not be used in the smaller capacity drive and are automatically ejected. They could however be read and written to by the later Zip 750 drives. Zip 250 drives could read and write to the older Zip 100 disks. A variant on the Zip 250, the Zip U250 was also launched in 2001; the U250 disks contained titanium particles in the media to improve the operation of the drives, and were also self-cleaning. The U250 discs were full compatible with Zip 250 drives despite their different shape.

Even before the introduction of the Zip 250, sales of Zip drives had begun falling due to the falling cost of CD-R and CD-RW disks, followed by USB memory sticks.

All Zip variants were discontinued in 2003.

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Photo CD (1992 – 2004)

Photo CD was an optical disc system based on the Compact Disc that allowed the storage of up to 100 high quality images in a proprietary format. It was introduced by Kodak in 1992, and the format is defined in the Biege Book standard (one of the Rainbow Books covering Compact Disc standards). Kodak’s Photo CD system also included the scanners for photo processing labs that could take scans from film negatives or slides. Photographers could take exposed film to a Photo CD processing lab, where the film would be developed and scanned to a Photo CD, or they could have previously developed film scanned to Photo CD.

Photo CDs were designed to be played on a dedicated standalone Photo CD player connected to a domestic television, but they could also be played in a CD-i player. It was possible to play them on a computer with suitable software, but at the time CD-ROM drives were still uncommon.

The system was not popular with consumers, though it was more accepted by professional photographers.  Although there were around 140 Photo CD processing labs in the US alone by 2000, by this time domestic scanners enabled consumers to scan their own photographs. In 1999, Kodak had also introduced the more affordable Picture CD system, with images in JPEG format burned onto a recordable CD that also held the software required to the view and edit the images on a computer.

Kodak had completely abandoned the Photo CD business by 2004, but never released the image specifications. However, it has been reverse-engineered so it is possible to convert images to other formats.

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